Trying To Read The Gulag Archipelago On My First Hundred Degree Day by Christine Potter

Trying To Read The Gulag Archipelago On My First Hundred Degree Day

Married to my first husband for one year, in our
apartment with only its bedroom air conditioned,

I waited until someone on TV announced it was
really one hundred degrees outside and walked

to the courtyard through our hall’s airless murk
with the sole book on our shelves I hadn’t read.

I sat under a crabapple tree on brown grass and
watched the afternoon sun spattering the ground—

bits of white heat that wobbled a little. There was
a breeze somewhere but I couldn’t feel it. I wanted

to know what a hundred degrees felt like and this
was it: a desiccated leaf next to me that I crumbled

in my fingers and blew away. Sweat at the back of
my neck, under my hair and my breasts, even in

the shade. An icy mountain of a book I could not
manage to read and still haven’t. Luminous green

bottles of beer inside, in the noisy refrigerator with
the chicken for dinner and a marriage that showed

no signs of failing, yet. Everything for the first time,
trying to make it all part of me, to breathe in and hold.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: This poem’s oblique suggestion of doom is offered via clear, concrete imagery, offering the reader an ominous future with studied resonance.

The House My Heart Lives In by Christine Potter

The House My Heart Lives In

My parents are gone, my grandparents,
aunts, and uncles. But I have always found
winter beautiful. There is reassurance in

the early dark, the white, white sun, rooms
with all the furniture given away, rooms that
do not exist anymore. The small glass jars

of rose-smelling face cream on round white
bathroom sinks, the translucent, golden ovals
of glycerin soap. Frosted bathroom windows

manufactured to look that way: December
always, so no one can see us. The house my
heart lives in is in an old neighborhood with

trees that bump its sidewalks and the scent
of wood fires burning. Except the trees have
long ago been taken down and the sidewalks

repaired. But someone has still chalked You
Are Pretty in purple and pink at the corner.
Two years ago, my mother died as much as

anyone can. I think we all hide sheet music—
bird-scratch instructions for everything we
know—in rooms cozy with rugs and pillows.

It is our job to memorize the songs of loss
in inherited mirrors and spoons. We have
crossed into winter, and the sky is so clear!

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: One could argue that a gorgeous collection of imagery isn’t truly a poem, until one reads a poem such as this, where the collection of memories furnishes an entire lifetime of houses.

Some Facts You Should Know About The Love Of Music by Christine Potter

Some Facts You Should Know About The Love Of Music

Johann Sebastian Bach had a street brawl with a student
whose bassoon he’d insulted and who was therefore trying

to brain him with a stick. Tchaikovsky and Saint Saëns liked
impersonating ballerinas together. Bach was carrying a knife.

Tchaikovsky was almost certainly gay, and Saint Saëns, too.
The student’s clothing was shredded before his friends

pulled Bach off him. Tchaikovsky’s wife would never have
comprehended the words describing homosexuality. A 20th

century composer of organ music named Richard Purvis
wrote an arrangement of “Greensleeves” in a fox hole, under

live fire, during World War II. Saint Saëns eventually left
his wife. Tchaikovsky did, too. Richard Purvis led the first

military band through liberated Paris after his rescue from
a German POW camp. His “Greensleeves” sounds like the

whole world’s broken heart, trying to bear up. A grave robber
dug up Haydn’s skull. It was replaced with someone else’s

but later found. Now there are two. The judge let Bach’s
student go and cautioned Bach to be more likable. Music

is the last thing to leave anyone with dementia. Bach and
Handel were blinded by the same inept surgeon. My own

mother, before her diagnosis of terminal kidney disease, sat
in her doctor’s office, singing “Flat Foot Floozy,” out loud.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: This poem opens with a deceptively simple list of facts about musicians, but soon the repetition begins to press inward, and suddenly the “whole world’s broken heart” appears mid-poem, with such startling clarity, that the emotional refrain echoes long after the last line.

Champ Speaks by Christine Potter

Champ Speaks

I’m old, but I was glad to move my den.
My humans made my bed next to the fire—
a comfort on these winter mornings when
The South Lawn doesn’t beckon, and the choir

of shutter-clicks and shouted questions wear
me down. These days I run my best in dreams;
let Major ’s woofing end up on the air.
This good boy understands that all regimes

begin and then they end. You humans choose
your dogs and cats and Presidents, and put
them in this house to charm the world—or snooze,
like me, the dog who didn’t break Joe’s foot.

Real wisdom’s seldom something loud and fleet.
An old dog knows the fireside is sweet.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: Doggie wisdom is always more intelligible than the blather humans tell each other.

On The Seven Canonical Hours by Christine Potter

On The Seven Canonical Hours

O, Lord open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth thy praise—Psalm 51

Since the fifth century, someone has been praying this, always.
It’s like the wind this morning that comes from everywhere

and hammers our shutters against our house, like drafts that
get in around our windows, like new sunlight that is sharper

each day with the coming of winter. Everything that shaded us
over the summer is being scraped away, flying and tumbling,

wings without birds. And with them, lauds, terce, vespers,
night watch, the slow caress of sun over our foolishness.

Open thou my lips and I will praise thee. Praise my fear, my
shaky witness, the thrill of seeing more than I wanted to, even

the ugly parade of white trucks on the bridge over the Hudson.
It tried for but did not earn my fear. Praise the faithful dead,

the constant, daily sweep of the hours, the astonishing energy
of every heart in the world. Praise dawn every day. What planets,

what pinprick distant star, what shivery moonlight? What water,
frozen or free, what tides! Open thou my lips and I shall praise thee.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: This is the poem none of us realized we needed, but oh, after reading it, we know. We know.

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

From the archives – A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings by Christine Potter

A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings

Ye dragons, whose contagious breath
People the corridors of death
Change your dire hissings into heavenly song
And praise your maker with your forked tongues
—William Billings, 1794 – (a paraphrase of Psalm 148)

For-ked, with two syllables, and six or eight
sixteenth notes on “for”. Repeatedly. For
measure after measure. Breath control,
says my husband. He reminds me it was

my idea our choir sing this anthem. It’s what
I deserve for having cocktails with him and
a Sacred Harp CD. William Billings, leather
tanner, street sweeper, composer, missing

an eye, one leg shorter than the other, loved
dragons. Hissing dragons, especially, because
he could win even them. So what if they
smelled bad and King James gives them just

one word in Psalm 148? Billings turned his
anthem into dragons, turned his whole choir
into dragons, turned choirs into dragons two
hundred and twenty years into the future.

And because of his love, the dragons were
grateful. They unfolded their napkins and
ate turkey and Indian Pudding. Make sure
you hit the “s” in “hissings”, my husband says:

Hissssingss! Thus instructed, our lizard-like
scales include the whole world, as they were
intended to. See? The dragons are carrying
everyone’s plates to the kitchen sink. Alleluia!

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, November 26, 2015 — by Christine Potter

Why I Don’t Take Xanax by Christine Potter

Why I Don’t Take Xanax

Because the sky outside right now is both
grey and violet and enough leaves are gone
that I can finally see it from my desk. Because

pills only teach you how to swallow. Because
it’s late but not yet evening. Because my cat has
jumped off my desk and I can type without her

tail on the keyboard. Because there are too many
rattling bottles in the world and I do not want
another one, or anyone’s permission to own it.

Because it’s gotten dark but the sky is still violet.
Because my worries are two screech owls, talking
back and forth, somewhere up the valley. Because

screech owls are quite small and almost invisible
by day, with dappled grey feathers like tree bark.
Because 2 AM is relative and it’s not 2 AM yet.

Because 2 AM passes like a stranger whistling
on his way home. Because I never wanted my
heart to walk a straight line in this magic world.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: The repetition in this poem emphasizes the condition of the narrator—worried, a bit lost, but still uncomfortably sane (and surprisingly optimistic), as all of us are in the midst of this uncontrollable world.

On A Film Clip Of New York City From 1911 by Christine Potter

On A Film Clip Of New York City From 1911

Most people are slender. The air is bright and thick
behind them: men walk in dark suits, women
often in white, waists nipped tight, black parasols.

Overheated children squint from roofless autos
that share the avenues with trolleys and horses.
Horse poop, in fact, is everywhere. No one drives

around it. Smoke and steam rise from the chimneys
of boats and buildings. A wall of ivy shimmers
on a church. Chinese grocers, a remembered smell

of ripe peaches and dill weed: fifty years from then,
fifty years before now. (In the shade of a shop with
my grandmother, a hot afternoon, dollars counted

into her hand, chicken breasts, salad. The black
sheen of my grandfather’s car.) Edwardian high
windows, the brickwork around them not sooty yet.

(The train home carrying me past those tenements,
the news in my lap, during Watergate.) No one’s still
alive, but a riverside breeze moves the trees. I smell

creosote and the distant ocean. Walking across
Brooklyn Bridge, two teenaged boys—one white,
one black—hold hands, turn to smile at the camera.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: The meticulous punctuation of this poem emphasizes its careful narrative. The slow movement from past to present is almost unnoticed until the last line drops into view.

From the archives – Singing My First Funeral by Christine Potter

Singing My First Funeral

I think his last name was Messerich. His first…Charlie?
Probably. I hear my father’s voice saying it with

that friendly lilt men use to mean a good guy: Charlie
Messerich, church sexton during those few years Dad

tried believing what the rest of us did. Charlie’s funeral.
Everyone else was still alive. Sextons cleaned, fixed things—

but clearly not everything. Like having to die. Zion Church
looked embalmed as ever: dim, airless, polished, Victorian—

even with Sputnik twinkling in circles over our heads.
Someone else must have cleaned, I thought, and wondered

why I couldn’t cry. I knew you were supposed to. One girl
whose name I’ve also lost crayoned a picture: a man labeled

Charlie Messerich leading the Junior Choir skywards, all
our arms out straight before us like movie monsters, all

our kimono-sleeved choir robes dragging behind us on
pink and orange clouds. Melissa, maybe. I’d watched her

roll Italian bread into little balls and swallow handfuls
of them at the Spaghetti Dinner. Kids said her parents had

to call the ambulance and get her stomach pumped. Would
she have died? She cried at the funeral, and I could not.

Hymns. An anthem. It was just more church, and not
even Good Friday. I never asked her about her stomach.

Afterwards, I took off my starchy collar and freed my hair
and bobby pins from my choir beanie for The Reception

in the Parish Hall. Everyone’s mother smiled through
a haze of heated-over ham and pineapple slices too dense

for me to want any. I don’t think I ever cried, even later,
back home. I scuffed the soles of my patent leather shoes

all the way to my parents’ car. All afternoon, everything
was too bright, like staring at a bare light bulb. Like Heaven.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 24, 2017 — by Christine Potter

Pushcart Prize Nominations – 2017


I am happy to announce the following poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize:

Sonnet to negotiate peace with your dementia by Tracy Lee Karner

The Morning of My Madness Waking by Jim Zola

No I in Team by Ed Shacklee

The First Night by Devon Balwit

Moving Day by Alan Walowitz

After the Ghost Investigation by Christine Potter

Congratulations and good luck!